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Tuesday, July 22 2014 @ 09:24 AM EDT

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Today is Panama's Independence Day From Spain - 28 November 1821 - 190 Years Ago

History & ReferenceBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - During the month of November to the outsider it sometimes seems Panamanians are celebrating one kind of Independence Day or another, all month long. On this date, 28 November 1821, Panama formalized its Independence from Spain, and became part of Gran Colombia, which at the time was comprised of both present day Colombia and Venezuela. Separatists in the interior province of Los Santos basically sort of "jumped the gun" and declared the country's independence on 10 November 1821, known locally as the "primer grito" (first shout) for Independence. Then 18 days later the move was formalized in Panama City. At the time Panamanians actually considered whether they should unite themselves with possibly Peru or Mexico, but finally they settled on becoming part of "Gran Colombia." Today is a national holiday in Panama. Panama City is a ghost town as many people head to the interior of the country for the beaches, and some hop on airplanes to go on vacation. The following history comes from Panama: A Country Study:

  • Independence from Spain

  • Lacking communication except by sea, which the Spanish generally controlled, Panama remained aloof from the early efforts of the Spanish colonies to separate from Spain. Revolutionaries of other colonies, however, did not hesitate to use Panama's strategic potential as a pawn in revolutionary maneuvers. General Francisco Miranda of Venezuela, who had been attracting support for revolutionary activities as early as 1797, offered a canal concession to Britain in return for aid. Thomas Jefferson, while minister to France, also showed interest in a canal, but the isolationist policies of the new United States and the absorption of energies and capital in continental expansion prevented serious consideration.

  • Patriots from Cartagena attempted to take Portobelo in 1814 and again in 1819, and a naval effort from liberated Chile succeeded in capturing the island of Taboga in the Bay of Panama. Panama's first act of separation from Spain came without violence. When Simón Bolívar's victory at Boyacá on August 7, 1819, clinched the liberation of New Granada, the Spanish viceroy fled Colombia for Panama, where he ruled harshly until his death in 1821. His replacement in Panama, a liberal constitutionalist, permitted a free press and the formation of patriotic associations. Raising troops locally, he soon sailed for Ecuador, leaving a native Panamanian, Colonel Edwin Fábrega, as acting governor.

  • Panama City immediately initiated plans to declare independence, but the city of Los Santos preempted the move by proclaiming freedom from Spain on November 10, 1821. This act precipitated a meeting in Panama City on November 28, which is celebrated as the official date of independence. Considerable discussion followed as to whether Panama should remain part of Colombia (then comprising both the present-day country and Venezuela) or unite with Peru. The bishop of Panama, a native Peruvian who realized the commercial ties that could be developed with his country, argued for the latter solution but was voted down. A third possible course of action, a union with Mexico proposed by emissaries of that country, was rejected.

  • Panama thus became part of Colombia, then governed under the 1821 Constitution of Cúcuta, and was designated a department with two provinces, Panamá and Veraguas. With the addition of Ecuador to the liberated area, the whole country became known as Gran Colombia. Panama sent a force of 700 men to join Bolívar in Peru, where the war of liberation continued.

Copyright 2011 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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"Black Christ of Portobelo" Festival Today

History & Reference#Panama - Hundreds of parishioners and devotees of "El Naza" have gathered today at the San Francisco de Asís church in Portobelo to thank the saint for favors received. Men, women and children from all social extracts walk long miles of road and make sacrifices to comply with promises made to the Black Christ of Portobelo. The church is crowded with people who come to give thanks and to say a prayer before the image of the Cristo Nazareno de Portobelo. The National Police and other security sectors are monitoring the religious festival to ensure it develops in an order manner, with religious fervor. In the evening hours there will be a procession that marks the climax with this great saint and where all shout "Viva, El Naza!" (Critica)

Editor's Comment: Today is 21 October, and every year on this day thousands of people make their way to Portobelo to participate in this event. Here in Panama many people believe this statue of the "Black Christ of Portobelo" has special powers to grant their wishes. They pray before the statue and make offerings and promises. Like, "cure my daughter's illness and I'll be in your debt forever." Then when the daughter gets better, they believe it was the Black Christ that did it. If you look closely as you move around Panama you will frequently see these little images of the Black Christ, in taxi cabs, buses, or in shops or stores. The people who believe and follow this always have some kind of symbolic reminder on display. People walk all the way from Sabanitas to the church in Portobelo, and many of them do the last mile on their hands and knees. By the time they get to the church they've bleeding. Faith, belief. Happens every year. This year the authorities banned the sale of alcohol in the area as well.

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A Photo of Via España In The 1970's

History & Reference#Panama - A picture taken in the 1970's of Via España, when traffic ran in both directions. The Avesa building can be seen, where the headquarters of the National Institute of Telecommunications (INTEL) operated, and on the ground floor was the Madurito store which sold goods and electronics. The Plaza Concordia had not yet been built in the empty lot in front of the Rey supermarket, where the circus would set up shop when they came to town, and where the carnival celebrations were held in Panama City. (Critica)

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Panameñistas Commemorate The Death Of Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid

History & Reference#Panama - Today is a very special day for all who follow the legacy of three-time president of the Republic of Panama, Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid, said the former president Mireya Moscoso, his widow. Twenty three years after his death, those who continue his legacy held a mass in his honor at the "Garden of Peace" cemetery, including Vice President and party president, Juan Carlos Varela, National Assembly Deputy Alcibiades Vasquez, Minister of Economy and Finance Alberto Vallarino, among other Panameñistas. After the religious ceremonies, the former president Moscoso announced this would be the last time they visited the tomb of Dr. Arnulfo A. Madrid. His remains will be transferred to the province of Cocle, where he was born. There a mausoleum will be built, she said. (La Estrella)

Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid was elected as the president of Panama on three occasions - but he never served a full term in office.

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Captain Morgan's Pirate Ship Found in Panama

History & Reference The lost wreckage of a ship belonging to 17th century pirate Captain Henry Morgan has been discovered in Panama, said a team of U.S. archaeologists -- and the maker of Captain Morgan rum. Near the Lajas Reef, where Morgan lost five ships in 1671 including his flagship "Satisfaction," the team uncovered a portion of the starboard side of a wooden ship's hull and a series of unopened cargo boxes and chests encrusted in coral. The cargo has yet to be opened, but Captain Morgan USA -- which sells the spiced rum named for the eponymous pirate -- is clearly hoping there's liquor in there. "There's definitely an irony in the situation," Fritz Hanselmann an archaeologist with the River Systems Institute and the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University and head of the dive team told KVUE Austin. The Captain Morgan rum group stepped in on the quest for Captain Morgan after team -- which found a collection of iron cannons nearby -- ran out of funds before they could narrow down the quest.

The new funding allowed the team to do a magnetometer survey, which looks for metal by finding any deviation in the earth's magnetic field. "When the opportunity arose for us to help make this discovery mission possible, it was a natural fit for us to get involved. The artifacts uncovered during this mission will help bring Henry Morgan and his adventures to life in a way never thought possible," said Tom Herbst, brand director of Captain Morgan USA, in a statement. In the 17th century, Captain Henry Morgan sailed as a privateer on behalf of England, defending the Crown's interests and pioneering expeditions to the New World. In 1671, in an effort to capture Panama City and loosen the stronghold of Spain in the Caribbean, Morgan set out to take the Castillo de San Lorenzo, a Spanish fort on the cliff overlooking the entrance to the Chagres River, the only water passageway between the Caribbean and the capital city. Although his men ultimately prevailed, Morgan lost five ships to the rough seas and shallow reef surrounding the fort.

The underwater research team included archaeologists and divers from Texas State University, volunteers from the National Park Service's Submerged Resources Center and NOAA/UNC-Wilmington's Aquarius Reef Base. And pirate booty or no, they said the story of Captain Henry Morgan was the real treasure. "To us, the ship is the treasure -- the story is the treasure," Hanselman told MSNBC's Alan Boyle. "And you don't have a much better story than Captain Henry Morgan's sack of Panama City and the loss of his five ships." Artifacts excavated by the dive team in 2010, including the six cannons, as well as any future relics will remain the property of the Panamanian government and will be preserved and displayed by the Patronato Panama Viejo.

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Dont' Forget the 4th Of July BBQ At The Balboa Yacht Club This Afternoon

History & Reference By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Don't forget - "The Balboa Yacht Club, VFW Post 3835 and its Ladies Auxiliary are sponsoring their annual 4th of July BBQ, which will be held on Saturday, July 2nd. The event will begin at 2:00 and entrance is free. However, BBQ plates which will include BBQ chicken, baked beans, potato salad, dinner roll and a slice of apple pie will cost $10.00 in advance and $12.00 the day of the event. Also, hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob and apple pie will be sold a la carte. Contact any VFW Post 3835 or Ladies Auxiliary member for tickets. As always, there will be a fireworks display beginning at approximately 7:00. For more information, contact Anita Littesy 6616-0043 or alittesy@yahoo.com. Please remember that we will be celebrating the 4th on the 2nd this year. Anita Littesy, Secretary, Ladies Auxiliary VFW Post 3835, 6616-0043" I'll be heading over later this afternoon. See you there...

Copyright 2011 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Isthmus of Panama Emerged Much Earlier Than Previously Thought

History & ReferenceThe Isthmus of Panama emerged 22 million years ago, much earlier than previously thought, according to new paleontology studies made thanks the project to expand the Panama Canal, which is offering a true "window on the past" which the scientists are examining. The new findings, which correct previous studies that had estimated that the Isthmus of Panama emerged some 3.5 million years ago, are the result of more than three years of work by three researchers, the American David Farris and Colombians Camilo Montes and Carlos Jaramillo.

The three experts are members of the body of scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI, for its acronym in English), which is based in Panama. The new theory which the STRI paleontologists put forward suggests that the tectonic plates of the Americas collided near the border between Panama and Colombia, causing the emergence of the isthmus of Panama some 22 million years ago, even before the creation of the Arctic ice cap.

In an interview with EFE, Carlos Jaramillo said the investigation "is just beginning," because once it is published in a scientific journal, they should expect other experts to inquire scientifically and contrast the results with field tests, which may take five to seven years. He explained the exploration and work began three years ago with the start of the redevelopment of the Panama Canal, an in those excavations they found rocks and fossils allowed them to establish a new age of emergence of the isthmus. Among the evidence found are the remains of a fossilized tree that is about 18 million years old, demonstrating the area where the Canal is located had emerged at that time, said Jaramillo. There are also remains of fossil plants and animals that come from South America, such as turtles, alligators and bats, and others such as rhinos, horses and dogs that had migrated from what is now Florida and Texas, explained the expert.

For the analysis of the evidence, the team of paleontologists from the Smithsonian made use of geological research techniques such as magnetostratigraphy and thermochronology. "These techniques let you know how the rock has moved vertically, so what we did was to date when the Isthmus began to emerge, which had not been done before," said Jaramillo. Based on these techniques, "we find that the first phase of the creation of the Panamanian isthmus occurred a lot sooner than we thought," he added. They also analyzed the cooling of rock crystals, and that as they rise the temperatures lower, and it is possible to determine "how many millions of years a particular crystal spent cooling off, and how far it was from the surface," he said.

The scientist said the expansion of the Panama Canal has opened to him and his two colleagues "a window into the past that is unmatched, an opportunity that only happens once every hundred years" to conduct an inquiry of this kind. The paleontologist said that currently they are conducting circulation models to understand what impact this new geological model can have on the climate of the Caribbean and the region. Also, they ask about what could have been the width and approximate depth of the stretch of water that at that time separated the South from the North of the continent, which, said Jaramillo, "probably closed, closed, in three or four million years".

The three scientists hope to continue their studies in the Panama Canal area over the next two or three years, but they will also focus on the area near the border with Colombia, which is where was the clash of tectonic plates occurred, "to understand it better." He added that the shock contributed to closure of the narrows, the emergence of the isthmus, and the rise of the Northern Andes of Colombia also, in a process that occurred over the geological scale of more than 20 million years. "So it gets more interesting and this is just the beginning of what comes in the next two or three years, this is not the end but really the beginning, because there are a lot of remaining questions," he said. (Panama America)

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Texas State researcher helps find pirate cannons

History & ReferenceBy Roy Bragg - SAN MARCOS — Six deteriorating pirate cannons, discovered by a team that included a Texas State University researcher, will help Panamanian antiquities experts tell the history of that nation. The cannons, found in September in the muck at the mouth of the Chagres River, are thought to be from the deck of ships led by legendary pirate-for-hire Capt. Henry Morgan, who was en route to raid Panama Viejo — now called Panama City — in 1671. Instead, says Frederick Hanselmann, Morgan's flagship ran into a reef. Then, like a nautical rumba line gone bad, three of his other ships either ran into the same reef or into each other trying to avoid it. All of them sank, depositing the cannons and everything else on the ocean floor. Undaunted, Morgan took his remaining ships to the city and sacked it. The discovery of the 340-year-old weapons, which are now in Panama's possession and being preserved, is an important find, says Hanselmann, the school's chief underwater archaeologist. “It was an important event in the development of the country,” he said. “It's a major find for the country. It's a major find for the people.”

William B. Lees, president of the Society for Historical Archaeology, agreed: “It's part of a bigger story,” he said. “It's part of a nation's view of itself.” The ultimate goal of archaeology, Lees said, isn't to find interesting stuff, but rather to find tangible proof of historical events. The past is complicated, with multiple narratives that sometimes present a murky or unclear version of history. Archaeologists find tangible proof of those stories. “With archaeology,” he said, “you have a more objective set of information. It's stuff that was left behind. It doesn't tell the story. It is the story.” (more)

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Thousands of devotees pay honor to the the "Cristo de Atalaya"

History & Reference Once again, the town of Atalaya, in the province of Veraguas, opened its arms to welcome thousands of devotees of the Christ the Nazarene, who participated in the pilgrimage which has been carried out for several decades. It is a tradition that on the first Sunday of Lent, the faithful gather in Atalaya to participate in this pilgrimage in honor of the Christ of Nazarene. The arrival of the parishioners started since last weekend, when many went to visit the Christ to give thanks for favors granted. The Eucharist was attended by Bishop Oscar Mario Brown, José Luis Lacunza, José Dimas Cedeño and the Papal Nuncio in Panama Archbishop Andrés Carrascosa Coso. The Bishop of Panama, José Domingo Ulloa, was commissioned to preside over the ceremony and send a message of love and conversion for the Panamanians. Upon completion of the Mass, he began with the pilgrimage of the image of the Black Christ through the streets of Atalaya. (Telemetro)
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Cannons From the Lost Ships of Famed Privateer Captain Morgan Recovered in Panama

History & Reference PANAMA CITY /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In the shallow waters surrounding Lajas Reef at the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama, a team of archaeologists has recovered cannons from the site where infamous privateer Captain Henry Morgan's ships wrecked in 1671 while carrying Morgan and his men to raid Panama City. Six iron cannons recovered from the reef are now undergoing study and preservation treatment by Panamanian researchers in cooperation with a team that has been studying the Chagres River with the permission of Panama's Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INAC). Mr. Raul Castro Zachrisson, Secretary General of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura said, "Panama's National Institute of Culture (INAC) is committed to the preservation of our cultural heritage. We strive to maintain it in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. I am honored to be a part of this important historical find and look forward to a continuous working relationship with all the institutions and professionals involved in the conservation of our sub aquatic cultural and natural resources." Since 2008, an underwater archaeology team led by archaeologists James Delgado, Frederick Hanselmann, and Dominique Rissolo has surveyed, mapped, and documented submerged sites, shipwrecks, and the 500-years of maritime history that rests along the banks of the Rio Chagres. In a press conference in Panama City on February 24, 2011, the team announced the recovery of the cannons from a shallow reef damaged by treasure hunters, whose blasting and dredging had exposed the fragile iron cannons to possible damage and loss. This led to the decision to recover the cannons. The cannons were measured and photographed in 2008 and studied by Dr. Ruth Brown, formerly with the Royal Armouries in the UK and an internationally renowned early cannon expert. The size and shape of the cannons appear to be a close match with the characteristics of small iron cannon of the Seventeenth Century; a more definitive identification of the cannons will take place after they are treated and years of encrustation and corrosion are removed in the laboratory. (more)
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Pirate Henry Morgan's Cannons Discovered in Panama

History & Reference The discovery of six antique British cannons submerged in the waters of Panama's Caribbean coast confirmed that the pirate Henry Morgan was in Panama and let the attack against the Spanish strongholds in this country in the seventeenth century. This was confirmed on Friday by the General Secretary of the National Institute of Culture (INAC), Raul Castro, after the discovery of the light artillery pieces, two to five feet long, in Las Lajas, an area of reefs in the Caribbean in the province of Colon. The guns were recovered under 18 feet of water by the scuba divers and American scientists Frederick Hanselman, of the University of Texas, and James Delgado, the Director of Maritime Heritage of the Department of Commerce of the United States, who collaborated with the cultural authorities of Panama. However, the six pieces of artillery will be submitted over the next two years to a rigorous process of restoration, before they are put on display at the Museum of Old Panama, in the ruins of the city that survived the fury of pirates and the passage of time. (La Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Very cool. In my humble opinion, Panama is missing out on wonderful opportunities to create historical attractions and museums that would attract even more tourists. Imagine a daily "changing of the guard" in the morning and afternoon in Casco Viejo, with actors in period dress, a firing of a cannon, displays, etc. I remember visiting "Colonial Williamsburg" when I was a kid, as well as places like Fort Ticonderoga, and Gettysburg. Panama has a rich history, however the government of Panama has done very little to preserve historic sites and to make them more interesting to visitors. When people come to Panama they go see the Panama Canal, the causeway, Casco Viejo - and then they eat lunch and head for the beach. If there were more to see and do (and learn) then maybe more people would come.

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Mayor of Panama Bans Sale of Alcohol on 9 January for Martyr's Day

History & ReferenceIn commemoration of the patriotic deeds of January 9, 1964, the Mayor of Panama under Decree No 341 of January 3, 2011 suspended the sale of alcoholic beverages in the capital district, as well as the playing of bands and music. The decree as published in the Official Gazette states that the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited in supermarkets, stores, night clubs, bars, and all other places starting at 12:00 midnight on Saturday, 8 January until 12:00 midnight on Sunday, 9 January 2011. People who do not comply with this measure will be sanctioned by the Mayor, Justices of the Peace, or the night judge in the District of Panama, and fined from $100 to $1,000 dollars. (Dia a Dia)

Editor's Comment: 9 January is "Martyr's Day" in Panama - marking the deaths of those who were killed in the riots of 9 January 1964. This event was the catalyst which eventually culminated with the Torrijos-Carter treaty of 1977 and the return of the Panama Canal and the Canal Zone to Panamanian control. It's a good day for all members of the English speaking expatriate community to keep a low profile - because if there are still any radical anti-gringos out there, this is the day they will come out of the woodwork. And for the record, I have an original copy of this Life magazine in my personal collection.

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New Display on Panama's Contribution To The Establishment of the State of Israel

History & ReferenceThe Embassy of Israel will open an exhibition tonight at the Panama Canal Museum in Casco Viejo, on Panama's contribution to the establishment of the Israeli state. Israeli Ambassador to Panama, Yoed Magen, recalled today when speaking on the TVN morning news broadcast, that Panama helped in the establishment of the State of Israel on two fronts, one at the UN, when former Panamanian ambassador Eduardo Alvarez Morgan encouraged small countries to support the vote on the resolution on the partition of Palestine, which led to the creation of the State of Israel and then chaired the International Commission to enforce this resolution. Magen noted that Morgan Alvarez played a very important and positive role because he met with Jewish leaders and made a secret trip to Cyprus to see the Jewish refugees. When they opened the doors to the Jews, they boarded different ships, and one not only carried the flag of Panama, but Morgan himself helped hundreds of Jewish woman and children and the sick to embark from Cyprus to the new State of Israel, the diplomat noted. All of this history will be displayed in the exhibition, the Ambassador of Israel summarized. (TVN Noticias)
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Manuel Noriega's Last Days Memorialized In Leaked U.S. Embassy Documents

History & Reference By Francisco Alvarado - One week before his ouster, Panama strongman Manuel Noriega was preparing to crack down on his opponents and rally his troops, according to Prudence Bushnell, at the time U.S. Ambassador to Panama. Bushnell's analysis is among the first set of U.S. Embassy documents released by Wikileaks on Nov. 28, detailing her version of Noriega's last days in power. Bushnell intimated Panamanians would welcome U.S. intervention. On December 13, 1989, Bushnell painted a grim picture for Uncle Sam's interests in the Central American nation. It was a telegram to her boss -- then-State Department Secretary George P. Schultz -- seven days before U.S. armed forces invaded Panama. "The Panama crisis continues to grind on with no clear end in sight," Bushnell relayed. "Noriega tenaciously holds on to power, intimidating his opponents and firing up his supporters with slogans calling for retribution against 'Panamanian traitors and their U.S. masters,' should anything happen to him." (more)
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Losing identity in the Camarka: The plight of the Ngöbe people

History & ReferenceBy Amanda Wheat [MediaGlobal]: With huts made of dirt and penka leaves, wood stoves for cooking and warmth, and the dark illuminated only recently by flashlights, the Ngöbe people live a quite simple and isolated life in the mountains of central Panama. But change is softly stirring this peaceful community. Ngöbere, the spoken language, is no longer being taught to the village children, though it’s still used by 170,000 indigenous Panamanians, and despite a lack of electricity, expensive modern utilities like cell phones have found their way into the hands of Ngöbe youths. “It is the roads that have brought change,” said Klaus Geiger, resident Peace Corps Volunteer in the 500-person Ngöbe village Aguacatal. “Before the main road was introduced, Ngöbes would have to travel six hours by foot to get to the nearest town, but now it takes only one hour’s hike to get to the main road. Thus, the Latino culture has been able to permeate Aguacatal, providing things like cell phones which these people don’t need and definitely can’t afford.” (more)

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Panama's Cops Show Off Military Hardware During Parades

History & ReferenceDuring the parade on 3 November in San Felipe, members of the National Police, State Border Service and the Institutional Protection Service (SPI) were deployed in military style. Marching to the stomp and rhythm of boots, the security sectors marched displaying heavy weapons, M16 rifles, RPG rocket launchers and turbo motorcycles which they used to show off with acrobatics in front of the Presidency of the Republic.

The parade was expected to start at nine o'clock, after the traditional ceremonial music and religious events to celebrate Panama's separation from Colombia in 1903, but the start of the parade was delayed at least an hour and a half until the institutional delegations started marching. Those who suffered most were the school students who arrived early, some as early as 6:00 am - they reached the starting point on time but in some cases they didn't step off until after 12:00 noon.

But this was not the only thing that caused inconveniences. During the "dianas" that were being played for the President there were complaints because the SPI band played meringue music to the chorus of "don't mess with me." And the saddest thing. The Panamanian flag flew at half-mast on Ancon hill until after 8:00 AM. (La Estrella)

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Panamanian Lawmaker (Scrooge) Wants To Outlaw Halloween

History & Reference Panamanian lawmaker Alcibiades Vasquez asked the Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar, to prohibit, through an executive decree, the celebration of "Halloween" in the different schools in the country. According to the deputy, the measure would apply to both public and private schools, and would seek to place additional emphasis on the national independence celebrations. He said he is holding talks with Education Minister Lucy Molinar, because it should not be that there are schools which practically force children to celebrate this "evil party." "I am a radical on this issue. It is a national disgrace that this country has events in schools, during which teachers encourage children to be painted as devils and all sorts of weird things when they do not even know what these holidays mean," he said. He questioned the fact that objects alluding to this event to be held on 31 October are already appearing in stores. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: People always tend to fear what they don't understand. When the US military was here, Halloween was celebrated on the bases. The US Southern Command would greatly relax their policies in order to allow the children of friends, family members, domestic employees, etc., to come to the bases and "trick or treat" in the base housing areas if they wanted to. Halloween is a patently American tradition and it's perfectly normal for us to celebrate this event with our children, the same was as we did when we were kids. As far as the whole "evil" or "devil" thing is concerned, if I remember correctly most of the time I wanted to be dressed up like some kind of superhero, like Batman or Superman or something similar. Whatever. This discussion comes up in Panama every year like clockwork, right before Halloween. I remember walking up to the houses of our closest neighbors, who would say "aren't they cute" and then hand out candy. Free candy, and playing dress up. What's so evil about that?

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Panama Canal fossils reveal ancient collision of worlds

History & ReferenceBy Howard Falcon-Lang - Science reporter, BBC News - It was the biggest event in our planet's history since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Three million years ago, the Americas collided. The creation of the Panama Isthmus - the narrow land bridge that joins the two continents - wreaked havoc on land, sea and air. It triggered extinctions, diverted ocean currents and transformed climate. Now a multi-billion dollar project to widen the Panama Canal is set to reveal new secrets about the event that changed the world. Panama is a tiny country, but in a perfect location. Positioned just north of the equator in the Caribbean, its famous canal is the strategic hub of the global shipping industry. The 80km (50-mile) -long Panama Canal, completed in 1914, connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Its existence means that ships can avoid - at a price - the treacherous 8,000 mile journey round Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. (more)

Entire hillsides are being blasted away to widen the Panama Canal

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Newly declassified papers reveal English prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn's role in Panama coup

History & Reference LONDON (AP) — Previously secret papers declassified Friday revealed that British ballerina Margot Fonteyn was heavily involved in plotting a coup to overthrow Panama's government, detailing how her clandestine political activities both exasperated and amused officials on both sides of the Atlantic. The confidential telegrams and correspondence released by Britain's national archives pieced together a bizarre and sometimes comic account of the attempted coup in the late 1950s, during which the celebrated dancer and her diplomat husband, Roberto Arias, sought Fidel Castro's help in a revolution that failed because of a last-minute blunder. Fonteyn was 39 and an internationally renowned ballerina when she was arrested and briefly detained in a Panama prison on April 20, 1959. A few days earlier she and Arias had set out in a yacht on an apparent fishing holiday, but aiming to gather men and arms for the coup. The papers showed that British officials in London, as well as diplomats in Panama and New York, scrambled to contain the incident, fearing the plot would threaten British relations with the central American country. But they also documented how the officials thought the events were a kind of "slapdash comedy."

"I had to pinch myself several times during her visit to be sure I wasn't dreaming the comic opera story which she unfolded," wrote Foreign Office Minister John Profumo in one of the papers as he described a private meeting with Fonteyn shortly after she was released. Profumo wrote that Fonteyn admitted to him how she and her husband had visited Castro in Cuba and received a pledge of some weapons and men from the leader. "She affirmed that ... Castro was behind this coup. Naturally he now had to disclaim all knowledge," Profumo wrote. He himself later courted controversy. As a Cabinet minister in 1963, he had a liaison with a prostitute who was disclosed to be linked to a Soviet spy.

British ambassador to Panama Ian Henderson was not impressed by Fonteyn's behavior and wrote that he hoped she would "keep away from Panama for a very considerable time." "I do not regard her conduct as fitting in any British subject. ... Her conduct has been highly reprehensible and irresponsible," Henderson wrote in a telegram. The officials believed that although Fonteyn was "involved in the plot up to her neck," she was an amateur revolutionary who viewed the whole situation in a "charmingly lighthearted way." Profumo wrote that Fonteyn described how, as the coup unraveled, she mistakenly dumped some incriminating documents into the sea. Officials later retrieved the items, including Arias' address book, which contained the addresses of actors John Wayne and Errol Flint. The celebrities apparently had business dealings with Arias.

Mark Dunton, a historian at the archives, said the files gave an unusual glimpse into a previously little known chapter of Fonteyn's life. "The extent of Dame Margot's personal involvement has not been in the public domain before," said Dunton. "It adds to the slightly bizarre nature of this attempted revolution." Fonteyn, who was born Peggy Hookham in 1919, went on to reach even greater creative heights through her acclaimed partnership with Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. She returned to Panama with her husband years later and died there in 1991.

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Scientists discover extinct giant shark nursery in Panama

History & Reference Washington, May 18 (ANI): An extinct giant shark nursery has been discovered in Panama. The six-foot-long babies of the world's biggest shark species, Carcharocles megalodon, frolicked in the warm shallow waters of an ancient shark nursery in what is now Panama, report paleontologists working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Florida. Catalina Pimiento, visiting scientist at STRI and graduate student at the University of Florida, said: "Adult giant sharks, at 60-70 feet in length, faced few predators, but young sharks faced predation from larger sharks. As in several modern shark species, juvenile giant sharks probably spent this vulnerable stage of their lives in shallow water where food was plentiful and large predators had difficulty maneuvering."

Paleontologists from the Smithsonian and the University of Florida collected more than 400 fossil shark teeth from Panama4s 10-million-year-old Gatun Formation as part of ongoing work to reveal the origins of this narrow land-bridge that rose to connect North and South America about 3 million years ago. Pimiento added: "The 28 teeth that we identified as C. megalodon were mostly from neonates and juveniles." Researchers used reference collections at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the Florida Museum of Natural History to characterize the teeth.

STRI staff scientist Carlos Jaramillo, who heads the Canal excavation project, said: "Very little is known about the life cycle of this giant shark that ruled the oceans not so long ago. Now we think that the young spent their first years close to the coast among mangroves." The team discarded several other explanations for the concentration of small teeth at the site. Before their discovery in Panama, two other fossil beds have been proposed as paleo-shark nurseries: the Williamsburg Formation from the Paleocene and the Oligocene Chandler Bridge Formation, both in the U.S. state of South Carolina. The sandy soils of the Gatun Formation have been used for years to make cement. Soon these outcrops will be exhausted. Scientists continue to race against the clock to find out more about the ancient inhabitants of the region. (ANI)

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Government Offices Closed Next Thursday for Holy Week

History & Reference Next Thursday, 1 April 2010, most government offices in the Republic of Panama will only be working a half-day and they will close their doors after 12:00 noon. There will be some (unspecified) exceptions, and offices that will be required to remain open due to the "nature and extent of their duties." In the Judicial Branch of government, all courts, Superior Tribunals, the Supreme Court, as well as all associated administrative offices will be closed on Thursday, 1 April 2010, thanks to Holy Week and Easter celebrations. (Source - TVN Noticias)

Editor's Comment: In Panama Easter is called "Semana Santa" (Holy Week). Observations generally start on Thursday and include Good Friday as well as Easter Sunday. Panama is a predominately Catholic and Christian country and the traditional religious aspects of Easter are still the focus here. Government authorities always place restrictions on the sales of alcohol during this time, so if you're a real boozer you might want to stock up now so you can remain tanked in the sanctity of your own home for a couple of days. Easter and Holy Week mark the traditional end of the summertime festivities in Panama. And after Mother's Day, Christmas, New Year's, and Carnival, as well as summer vacation and trips to the beach, everyone generally needs a break from taking a break.

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Pilgrims Visit the Jesús Nazareno de Atalaya

History & Reference By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Starting today you might begin to see people walking along the Inter American Highway, dressed in purple robes. They are pilgrims who are on their way to celebrate their devotion to the "Jesus of Nazareth of Atalaya" in the province of Veraguas in Panama. Between today and Palm Sunday some 200,000 people are expected to make this trip. Believers think the statue of Jesus in the Minor Basilica of Jesús Nazareno (Parroquia San Miguel) has special powers to answer their prayers and perform miracles. Many Panamanians participate in this pilgrimage every year, some of them walking all the way from Panama City, for example, as an expression of their devotion. While the exact date of the start of this tradition is not known, historians have been able to determine that a similar tradition has been practiced as far back as 1730. Devotees come to pray and ask for things such as help through economic hardships, or healing or health for themselves or loved ones. In 1964 the church of Atalaya was designated as a Minor Basilica by the Vatican, only the second in the Republic of Panama after the Basilica of Don Bosco, located in Calidonia in Panama City. This tradition is similar to those who believe in the powers of the Black Christ of Portobelo, whose celebration is in October every year. Anyway, if you see people wearing purple robes walking down the highway at this time of year, they are on their way to Atalaya.

Copyright 2009 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Ash Wednesday - Start of Lent in Panama

History & Reference For the Western Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty-six days (forty days not counting Sundays) before Easter. It is a moveable fast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as 4 February or as late as 10 March. Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens (one of the sacred oils used to anoint those about to be baptized), though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the minister who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his or her own forehead and then on those of congregants. The minister recites the words: "Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return", or "Repent, and believe the Gospel." Lent, in Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Conventionally, it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan. This practice was virtually universal in Christendom until the Protestant Reformation. Some Protestant churches do not observe Lent, but many, such as Lutherans, Methodists, and Anglicans do. (Source: Wikipedia)

Editor's Comment: So, Carnival is five days of "getting it out of your system" so you can be relatively purged by the time Easter and Holy Week come around. Today marks the start of Lent. After awhile you become accustomed to the ebbs and flows of the Panamanian party calendar. Next up - taking a few days off at the beach during Holy Week, and drinking all of the booze you had stashed in the house so that no one can see you... One more thing - the thousands of Panamanian women who are now pregnant thanks to Carnival (although they don't know it yet) will give birth during the last week of November 2010, so it becomes harder to keep your employees at work during that time. Have I been in Panama too long?

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Ship of Gold brings treasure to the Long Beach Coin Expo

History & Reference A $10 million exhibit of California Gold Rush sunken treasure, the fabled “Ship of Gold,” will be publicly displayed during the Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Collectibles Expo on February 4–6. The exhibit includes historic gold coins and huge gold bars—one of them weighing in at more than 50 pounds—recovered from nearly 8,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. “The Central America was carrying tons of California gold when she sank in a hurricane in September 1857 during a voyage from Panama to New York City. About $10 million of that gold will be exhibited in an eye-opening public display housed in a specially-constructed 40-foot long representation of the ship’s hull,” said Ronald J. Gillio, Expo General Chairman. The exhibit is courtesy of Monaco Rare Coins of Newport Beach and involved months of work to coordinate the display with collectors who privately own and now have generously loaned many of the items for the exhibit. Robert D. Evans, the chief scientist on the 1980’s mission that located and recovered the fabulous sunken treasure, will be at the exhibit each day during the show to meet with visitors and present educational programs about the Ship of Gold. In addition to seeing gold, a free gold coin will be awarded daily to a lucky, registered visitor. Visitors will also see an exhibit of early American silver half dollars minted from 1794 to 1832. Many of the superb-quality rare coins in the collection are the finest known of their kind. A children’s treasure hunt will be held on Saturday, February 6. Educational programs and collectors’ clubs meetings will be conducted during the show and are open to the public. Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, Texas, the world’s largest collectibles auction house, will hold a public sale of U.S. coins. The public hours of the Long Beach Expo are Thursday and Friday, February 4 and 5, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturday, February 6, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $6 (good for all three days); $4 for members of any coin or stamp club who display a valid membership card; and $3 for seniors 65 and older. Free admission for children ages seven and younger. Discount coupons are available online at www.LongBeachExpo.com.
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46 Years Ago Today - Martyr's Day in Panama

History & Reference Today Panamanians are celebrating 46 years of the saga of 9 January 1964, in which 20 Panamanian students were killed and several more injured while trying to fly the Panamanian flag in the former Canal Zone, which at that time was under American rule. The attempted rescue of Panamanian sovereignty, led by students from the National Institute, whose sole intention was to ensure that the national flag fluttered next to the flag of the the United States, as established in an agreement between both nations, was opposed by the so-called "zonians" and U.S. troops. The clash between the two groups began with a scuffle which ended the Panamanian flag being torn and had the outcome the tragic deaths of Panamanians. (Source: Denise Lara for Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: Please see this article on Wikipedia about Martyr's Day in Panama. On this day in 1964 violent clashes broke out between rioting students and the US military. This event is recognized as the catalyst eventually resulting in the 1977 signing of the Torrijos-Carter treaty, the return of the Panama Canal to Panamanian control, and the complete withdrawal of the US military bases from Panamanian soil. This event happened 46 years ago today, so the people who were teenagers at that time are in their early sixties now. When I was first stationed in Panama in 1987, the US military would call the road that runs between the former Canal Zone and Panama City "4th of July Avenue" while at the same time the Panamanians would call it the "Via de los Martires" which is what it is called today. I have an original copy of the 24 January 1964 "Life" Magazine featuring students and protesters climbing a light pole to fly the Panamanian flag. This day is the Panamanian equivalent to our Boston Tea Party - a single act of defiance eventually resulting in national sovereignty. Think what you want, hold any opinion you want, but today is a good day to hold your tongue in public out of simple respect for those who were killed.

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Jews in the California Gold Rush

History & Reference By Jonathan Ellowitz - The call rang around the world: Gold in California! Of the 300,000 fortune-seekers who flocked to America's West Coast, at least 4,000 were Jews. The majority hailed from Prussia and other German-speaking lands, though others came from France, Spain, England, Poland, and America's East Coast. These Jews proved crucial to the establishment of American civilization in the Far West. Levi Strauss and the Capitalists - Unlike other forty-niners (a reference to 1849, the year the Gold Rush peaked), most Jews in the Gold Rush avoided the down-and-dirty work of mining. They typically were single men who wanted to take their chances with the alleged riches California promised, but they also wanted economic stability and the possibility of family growth in the future. Miners moved from town to town chasing gold discoveries; their intransient work was hardly family-friendly. So the Jews who went west, many of whom were already trained in business, became prodigious commercialists. They seized the opportunity to establish reliable lines of supply to meet miners' demands for boots, clothing, hats, and equipment. Some Jews worked as prospectors or engineers in mines, but most started supply businesses. Levi Strauss was the most famous German Jewish entrepreneur to exploit Gold Rush fever. Born in Bavaria in 1829, Strauss immigrated to New York City in 1847 to help run his two older brothers' dry goods business there. In 1853, he journeyed to California via the notorious Panama route. He sailed to the Isthmus of Panama (decades before its canal was opened), disembarked, and journeyed via mule and canoe through 60 miles of malarial swampland. At Panama's Pacific coast, he boarded a ship for San Francisco--the city that had become the hub of the Gold Rush.
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Hugo Spadafora's Killer Released From Prison

History & Reference
Hugo Spadafora
Hugo Spadafora
David, Chiriqui - After having served a prison sentence of 19 years, 11 months, and four days, Julio César Miranda (a.k.a. "Muñecón"), one of those convicted in the murder of Hugo Spadafora, was released from prison. Miranda was released Sunday morning, 3 January 2010. He was imprisoned for almost twenty years in the public jail in David in the province of Chiriqui. 26 days of Miranda's sentence were commuted for studies he did while incarcerated, said Orlando Guerra, the director of the prison. Guerra said Miranda was the last of those involved in the Spadafora case who was still imprisoned in Chiriqui. The prison director simply said "he served his sentence." (Editor's Comment: From Wikipedia - "Spadafora was detained by Noriega's forces when entering Panama from Costa Rica in September 1985, and his decapitated body was later found stuffed in a post office bag. The autopsy later found Spadafora's stomach full of the blood he had ingested during the slow severing of his head. He had also endured hours of unspeakable torture. President Nicolás Ardito Barletta tried to set up a commission to investigate the murder but was forced to resign by Noriega, which increased suspicions that the military ordered the beheading. It was not until the administration of President Guillermo Endara that a court found Noriega (in absentia) and other followers guilty of a conspiracy to murder Spadafora.") (Source: Boris Gómez for La Prensa)
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Army Honors Kurt Muse on 20th Anniversary of Operation Just Cause in Panama

History & Reference ALEXANDRIA, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Kurt Muse received the Army’s Freedom Team Salute Commendation for helping to overthrow Panamanian General Manuel Noriega. In the 1980s, Muse, an Army Veteran, operated a bandit radio station in Panama that broadcast messages of freedom to the Panamanian people. He was arrested and imprisoned for nine months. The radio station, called Voice of Liberty, encouraged Panamanians to vote Noriega out of office. “We beseech you to vote,” one broadcast explained. “Together we can bury General Noriega’s dictatorship under a mountain of ballots.” Twenty years ago on December 20, 1989, the U.S. Military launched Operation Just Cause, the liberation of Panama, involving the largest parachute combat jump since WWII and the largest military action following Vietnam. One of the initial actions involved freeing Muse. Army Delta Force Soldiers landed by helicopter on the roof of Muse's prison and neutralized the guards. Next they blew the lock off Muse's cell and escorted him to the helicopter. Upon their departure, their aircraft took fire and eventually crashed. Soon an armored vehicle arrived and whisked Muse and his rescuers to safety. Muse was back in the United States in time to celebrate Christmas with his family. “Kurt Muse is a patriot,” said Colonel David Griffith, the Director of Freedom Team Salute. “It is a privilege to be able to honor him for the sacrifices he made in the name of freedom.” Freedom Team Salute is a Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff program that gives anyone the opportunity to say “Thank You” to discharged Army Veterans or civilians who provide support to Soldiers. It also gives Soldiers the opportunity to honor their parents, spouse and other family members for their sacrifice and support. Further, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers can honor their employers. The Freedom Team Salute Commendation consists of Certificate of Appreciation and Letter of Thanks signed by the Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff and a customized Army Lapel pin.
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20 years later, Panama conflict gets little notice

History & ReferenceBy CINDY HORSWELL for the HOUSTON CHRONICLE - As Christmas approaches, 85-year-old former President George H.W. Bush reflects back to a long dark December night 20 years ago today when he ordered the military invasion of Panama. “Lot of people don't realize that it ever happened,” Bush said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle last week. “But I remember the importance of bringing military dictator Manuel Noriega to justice and bringing democracy back to Panama.” In the annals of U.S. military and war history, the Panama invasion doesn't get much notice. The decisive conflict nicknamed Operation Just Cause lasted less than a month and was quickly overshadowed by the Persian Gulf War. Today, its scope in terms of duration and numbers of lives lost doesn't compare to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But nonetheless, for those who served a role in Operation Just Cause the 20th anniversary of the invasion brings back personal and powerful memories. The invasion order came after critics had called Bush a “wimp” for not protecting American citizens in Panama and the 51-mile canal built under President Theodore Roosevelt's leadership that was then still under U.S. control. “I don't think the canal was in danger but it could have been,” Bush said. “Yet that was never the main thing that motivated my decision.” 23 U.S. troops died. (more)
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The beginning of the end of everything

History & Reference
Colonel Roberto Díaz Herrera
Colonel Roberto Díaz Herrera
By ARISTIDES CAJAR PÁEZ for La Prensa - The sounds of helicopters shook the dawn of July 27, 1987. Then later explosions and the rattle of automatic weapons announced the start of a military assault. Something was happening in that house in Altos del Golf where Colonel Roberto Díaz Herrera lived, who until just a month ago was the Chief of Staff of the Panamanian Defense Forces. After being forced to retire by General Manuel Antonio Norega in early June 1987, Díaz Herrera had decided to speak out. He said things that until then had only been rumors about the outrages that were being committed by the Panamanian military, who held the real power in Panama. He talked about the electoral fraud of 1984, and about the assassination of former Vice Minister of Health Hugo Spadafora, who had denounced Noriega for having participated in drug trafficking, corruption, and the sale of visas, among other things. During that month Díaz Herrera's house in Altos del Golf became the center of a kind of pilgrimage, an oasis of rebellion in the middle of a city and a country, besieged by forces loyal to Noriega. Opposition leaders, foreign correspondents, and former adversaries met there under the watchful gaze of Noriega's agents, precariously defended by a few poorly armed loyalists, defectors from the security forces, drawn the the recent and growing charisma of the rebel military chief. That is when the world learned about everything that had been happening in Panama. But on that July morning Noriega had decided to tell his former comrade in arms: "Enough!"
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